Publisher:  Dewi Lewis Pub, 2002
Italian edition: Peliti Associati
Language: English

Photography and text: Simon Norfolk
Design: Jonathan Towell

European art has long had a fondness for ruin and desolation that has little parallel in other cultures. Since the Renaissance, artists such as Claude Lorraine or Caspar David Friedrich have painted destroyed classical palaces and gothic churches, bathed in a fading golden twilight. These motifs symbolised that the greatest creations of civilisation – the empires of Rome and Greece or the Catholic Church – even these have no permanence. Eventually they too would crumble; vanquished by barbarians and vanishing into the undergrowth. The only thing that could last, that was truly reliable, was God. And man’s only rational response in the face of God’s power, was awe. The landscapes of Afghanistan are also ‘awesome’ (in the original sense of this word) but the feelings of dread and insignificance are not related to the power of God but to the power of modern weaponry.

Afghanistan is unique, utterly unlike any other war-ravaged landscape. In Bosnia, Dresden or the Somme for example, the devastation appears to have taken place within one period, inflicted by a small gamut of weaponry. However, the sheer length of the war in Afghanistan, means that the ruins have a bizarre layering; different moments of destruction lying like sedimentary strata on top of each other. There are places near Bagram Air Base or on The Shomali Plain where the front line has passed back and forth eight or nine times – each leaving a deadly flotsam of destroyed homes and fields seeded with landmines. A parallel is the story of Heinrich Schliemann’s discovery of the remains of the classical city of Troy in the 1870s. Digging down, he found eleven cities deposited upon each other, each one in its turn rebuilt upon the rubble of its predecessor and later destroyed.

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